The History and Origins of Wedding Receptions

Man pouring champagne at wedding reception

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A reception is a celebration that follows the wedding ceremony. Receptions include many rituals and traditions, but they most often include a meal, music, and dancing. This celebration is held as a welcome for those who attended the wedding.

But have you ever wondered why the party after a wedding is called a reception? The word "reception" means the action or process of receiving something. The couple receives their community, i.e. friends and family, for the first time as a newly married couple. Likewise their friends and family receive the newlyweds as a married couple.

Reception Origins

Weddings were not nearly as extravagant a century ago. In Western culture, up until World War II, wedding celebrations were typically held in the bride's home and the family's financial standing dictated the style of the reception. A wealthier family might host a fancy ball, while a middle-class family might host an afternoon luncheon and tea.

During the 1950s, dance halls became more popular and the guest lists began to grow, as the bride and groom were no longer limited by the number of people their homes could hold. These days, the average number of guests at an American wedding is 131.

Wherever the reception was held, guests were greeted with a receiving line in which the bride and groom, hosts, and parents would greet every single guest.

Wedding Receptions Today

Today wedding receptions commonly take place in banquet halls, hotel ballrooms, wedding venues, and church and community halls. Smaller wedding receptions might occur at a restaurant or in a backyard. Instead of holding the ceremony in a religious institution like a church, couples today often streamline the day by holding the ceremony and reception at the same place.

The receiving line, which can be time-consuming, has since faded in popularity. Today wedding parties are typically introduced with a grand entrance presented by the wedding band or DJ.

Wedding Toasts

Wedding toasts are generally made before dinner is served. Toasts often include a welcome by parental figures (traditionally, the bride's father would speak first) and speeches by the wedding party, such as the best man and maid of honor.

Dancing and Entertainment

Within the last century, traditional dances have fallen to the wayside and dancing has become more of a free-for-all. Modern weddings still tend to include the newlyweds' first dance as a married couple and parent dances. Choreographed dances are also becoming more popular.

Entertainment is provided by a band or DJ. Sometimes fire artists and professional dancers are hired to provide additional entertainment.

Wedding Food

Culture plays a key role in wedding food. Often, a three-course meal is served that includes a salad, entree, and dessert. Buffets are also common options. It all depends on the couples' tastes.

Later on in the reception, the newlyweds will often ceremoniously cut the first piece of cake and feed a bite to one another. Wedding cakes are usually elaborate multi-tiered cakes. Couples today often choose to cut costs by having an extravagant fake display cake and serving guests a sheet cake.

The groom's cake, which originated in the Southern United States, is becoming an increasingly popular trend around the country. Traditionally the pristine, white cake was considered too light for male tastes, so a second cake, usually a liquor-soaked fruit cake, was offered as the groom's cake. Today, groom's cakes are works of art that are often modeled after the man's favorite sport or hobby.

The Cost

In 2019, the average cost of a wedding, including the ceremony and reception, was approximately $33,000. Geography plays a significant role in costs. For example, a wedding in Manhattan costs around $76,000, making it the most expensive place to get married in the country. Weddings in Mississippi and Idaho, however, are among the lowest, with average costs of $15,000 and $19,000, respectively.

There are ways to keep costs down, though, such as hosting a smaller wedding or planning a destination wedding in a less expensive locale. Reducing the guest list to close friends and family can significantly lower that final dollar amount.